Many Afghan nationals worked with the international forces in Kabul and elsewhere following the September 11 attacks in New York.
Point of view
"They knew where to find us, that we'd never escape them."Former translator with the French Army
In this edition, we give you a number of different tales of interpreters who worked with the French Army and a communications specialist who wishes to stay in Afghanistan.
Haroon is 25. He spent four years as a translator for the French army. After a process that will have lasted a year in total, he just received protection from France.
He was expected to make the move in the days following filming.
“I’ll always remember my time working with the soldiers. The memories will stay with me,” Haroon told us.
‘We would have been dead’
But with the sense of camaraderie came danger. He came under fire one day, when accompanying a convoy delivering supplies to a French base.
“For a minute there I thought we were dead because the insurgents were in a precise position on the mountain and we were at the bottom,” he recounted.
“It was really dangerous and everyone was shouting, which scared me a bit. Thankfully we retaliated. We accelerated as we continued the journey and the Afghan Army came to help us. And after that, it was all OK. Otherwise we would have been dead.”
Despite how it may seem, the conflict did not stop with the withdrawal of French forces in 2014. The Taliban rebellion continues and Haroon is considered a traitor.
‘I’m proud to have helped’
“I’m proud to have helped the French military. My responsibility was to work, to help, to cooperate with the French soldiers, NATO and everything else. I’m proud and I don’t regret it.”
But there is a price to pay for this young man. He now has to flee. Before leaving, he celebrates the end of Ramadan with his family.
His uncle, Abdul Kabir, agreed that Afghanistan had “become too dangerous for Haroon to stay.”
“I don’t have any other choice. My life is at risk. If Afghanistan returns to peace one day, I’ll be able to come back to help rebuild it. But, I don’t know when that will be.”
Today, Haroon is leaving his family and Afghanistan for the first time. He’s heading to France, where a new life awaits him.
But on the other side of town, Najib is not as lucky. He was working for Omid FM, Radio “Hope,” which was set up by the French Army in the conflict-torn Kapisa Province.
‘We’ll kill you’
Threatened a number of times by the Taliban, he lives a reclusive life with his wife and two children in the Afghan capital. He says he feels like a “prisoner in Kabul” and moves around as discreetly as possible.
“They would tell us ‘you’re all disloyal and if we find and capture you, we’ll kill you. We’ll either decapitate you, or burn you alive.’ They’d call the radio station and tell us that they knew our voices and faces, that they knew where to find us, that we’d never escape them,” he explained.
Najib is far from being the only one in this situation. Of 300 former interpreters who approached the French Embassy in 2015, only 100 have been able to leave with their families. Others have had their residency visa requests rejected by France.
Najib met his former French interpreter friends in a house in a highly secure area of the Afghan capital. They, too, feel threatened. They feel wronged.
“We want to speak out against this rejection, to have the reasons for it explained to us,” Nassir insisted.
“What were the criteria? What did those who’ve left have, that we don’t? It’s unfair. We went on missions, to village meetings, we were side-by-side with the French forces and we’re clearly identified as such now.”
He showed us a photo.
“That comes from the website of the French Ministry of Defence. I’m there, in the photo. It’s written that I was on the mission in Tagab, in Kapisa Province. And here are several letters of congratulation from officials.
“We feel like the French forces left some of their troops here. They told us we were full-fledged members of the French Army. It’s not fair that they left behind some of their forces.”
In France, a group of lawyers is taking legal action to help Najib and his former colleagues. They are waiting patiently, hoping the situation will work out in their favour and they’ll be able to get visas.
Many Afghans worked with and supported the international forces. Their presence also provided a windfall in one of the poorest countries in the world, as Mati outlined.
“If you want to live in Kabul, have a good life, live an average life, so you have to have a good work. And good work with good income is mostly possible with the foreigners and the international community,” he said.
‘We need to work on our country’
Mati works at the Institut français. He narrowly escaped death in a suicide bombing, which killed two people and wounded 15 in December 2014. Yet, he doesn’t want to lose hope.
“If we tell ourselves that today there was an attack and tomorrow there will be another one, we have to leave the city, or leave the country, so we can’t do that because we need to work on our country.
“I think as an Afghan, I have to be committed to continue to work and be optimistic for the future.”
Despite Mati’s optimism, the country has seen an upsurge in violence since international forces began withdrawing in 2014.
Just days after we met him, more than 80 people were killed and 230 injured in an attack on a peaceful protest in Kabul. ISIL claimed responsibility.
Last year, more than 11,000 civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan. The peace and stability that was to be the result of the 13-year presence of the international coalition still seems a long way off.